The Irish Times view on garda reform: Concerns remain

There are questions about willingness of ordinary gardaí to accept change and determination of senior officers to drive it

File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

A report by the Policing Authority exposing continuing resistance to reform within the Garda Síochána under a five-year modernisation plan should ring alarm bells. But Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has appeared to minimise its importance by saying the plan has been superseded by recommendations made by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. That may prove to be a costly political mistake.

It took many years and a number of demoralising garda scandals to bring about the establishment of the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate. And while the Commission on the Future of Policing recommended their merger as a new oversight body, their independence and ability to assess resistance to change within the force and to speak truth to power should not be diminished if that happens.

The Policing Authority report bridges old and new reform proposals and focuses, in particular, on inadequate planning and governance and on a consistent shortage of funding for the development of key areas, such as human resources, information technology, accommodation and training. Written six months after Commissioner Drew Harris took the top role in a management team desperately in need of a fresh start, it found an absence of strategic vision and no settled view on what an expanded and community-based garda workforce would look like and how it would be recruited, trained and organised.

Since then, Harris has taken a number of initiatives. A planned recruitment programme will increase civilianisation and diversity within the force; gardaí and civilian members will be treated equally; there will be a greater focus on ethical behaviour and internal discipline; promotion at all levels will be on merit and the process of releasing desk-bound gardaí to front-line duties will continue. These are welcome objectives. But concerns remain about the willingness of ordinary members to accept change and the determination of senior officers to drive it. Recognition by Flanagan of a need for additional funding for IT and human resources may help in that regard.